ALAMEDA – Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden had been studying this year’s NFL free-agent class for weeks, rarely leaving the building other than to eat or sleep.
Owner Mark Davis invited his chief decision makers and their wives to an event in Las Vegas last weekend, and Gruden suggested they accept.
“I was excited to get Mike out of the building,” Gruden said Wednesday. “We went to Las Vegas and it was a great event with Mike, Mandy Mayock, my wife Cindy and I and it was supposed to be a double date. Instead, we dated Drew Rosenhaus and Antonio Brown.”
The figurative swap happened because Pittsburgh’s deal to send mercurial receiver Antonio Brown to Buffalo fell through Thursday night. There were some contract hang-ups there, and suddenly Brown’s trade value went down.
The Raiders couldn’t meet Pittsburgh’s original asking price, but they met a new one that sends a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder to Pittsburgh for Brown, who in turn got $50 million over three years with $30 million guaranteed.
Mayock said the Raiders didn’t get involved in the Antonio Brown sweepstakes until Friday, the day before the deal was consummated. They had thought about it, but weren’t willing to jump into trade talks requiring one of their four NFL draft picks in the top 35 overall.
Then the price went down, and Mayock and Gruden discussed a realistic possibility that would turn their free-agency plan on its ear.
“The wild card in our planning was the understanding that Antonio Brown might be available,” Mayock said during Brown’s introductory press conference. “When, all of a sudden, we realized we might have an opportunity to compete for his services, it changed everything.
"When Jon and I had the conversation in Las Vegas about the chance to trade for Antonio Brown, there was no hesitation. Both of us thought his play spoke for itself, and we thought it would be important for the locker room and energy around the building.”
His on-field presence doesn’t hurt. Getting a four-time first-team All-Pro in the pattern was worth the extra funds required to secure his services through 2021, even if it meant the Raiders couldn’t go after all of their targets.
They still landed several players in their prime, all to contracts averaging eight figures per year. Antonio Brown came first, with offensive tackle Trent Brown, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and receiver Tyrell Williams, respectively, after that.
The Raiders aren’t done. Expect a veteran, second-tier edge rusher coming down the pike in time, with another cornerback remaining a possibility. Then there’s the matter of securing their own, especially running backs Marshawn Lynch (if he wants to return) and/or Doug Martin. The Raiders are monitoring tight end Jared Cook’s market, though it’s hard to imagine him coming back with a visit to New Orleans Thursday and interest from the Patriots.
The Raiders are still right with the salary cap. Without knowing Brown’s contract structure, the Raiders have an estimated $20 million in cap space, with half that devoted to the draft pool. Released players could create more space, as the Raiders adjust now that Brown’s in the fold. There have been reports the Raiders have a cashflow problem, recent signings refute such strong assertions. Mayock and Gruden still have to spend within their means.
“We have nowhere near an unlimited budget,” Mayock said. “The curveball that came out of nowhere was Antonio. What is comes down to is this: you’ve got a finite number of dollars; how do you want to spend them? When he became available, potentially, to us, we had to re-take that sheet of paper out and reanalyze how many players we could successfully chase or not. He was the trigger to the rest of what we did.
"I think, hindsight will be 20/20 a year from now, but we feel we upgraded the Raiders with big signings and we’re excited to keep working on it.”